For 20 years Simi Valley's Strung Out have been creating their unique brand of fast, technical, and rebellious punk rock. Their most recent release, Agents of the Underground, which came out September 29th on Fat Wreck Chords, serves as a testament to Strung Out's staying power. Sean Jain sat down with singer Jason Cruz after their show in Dallas, Texas to talk about their new album, their relationship with Fat Wreck Chords, one country they'd love to play most, and the meaning behind the title, Agents of the Underground.
How‚??s the tour going so far?
It‚??s the third show‚?¶it‚??s awesome, it‚??s fucking rad. We broke down, our transmission fucking dropped all its fluid last night so today was a rough day trying to figure out how to get here.
Every fucking time we come to Texas, I swear to fucking god dude‚?¶it‚??s fucking cursed.
I thought it was the cops.
Either the cops, or the fucking van breaking down‚?¶every fucking time‚?¶it never fails dude. My whole career, twenty fucking years, every time we roll through Texas, it‚??s something.
This state is cursed.
Yeah it‚??s the oil in the water in the ground. I swear to god it‚??s something. I swear, it‚??s kind of cursed. I dig Texas‚?¶I love the vibe here‚??Austin‚??s my favorite, I love the vibe, I love the people, but something about this fucking place‚?¶I swear to god the oil in the earth makes shit kind of cursed. The Indians put a curse on this place a long time ago.
Well I‚??m sure the fans are glad that you keep coming back.
Dude, the people here are great‚?¶I love Texas. It‚??s just cursed (laughs).
I was going to ask if you got accosted by the police‚?¶
No, not yet. Maybe tomorrow.
So Agents of the Underground came out on Tuesday‚?¶tell us about it.
Uh‚?¶what do you want me to say‚?¶have you heard it?
Yeah, I‚??ve probably listened to it around thirteen or fourteen times now.
Why‚??d you guys make the switch from Matt Hyde to Cameron Webb this time?
You know, I think after two times working with the same person you have to switch it up a little bit. Cameron was a fan of the band and we loved that Ignite record that he did, and we love everything that he‚??s done, but mostly that Ignite record was the one that caught my ear.
Cameron practically saved my life‚?¶he‚??s good people, he‚??s a good guy, he‚??s a good person. He‚??s a family guy, he‚??s got a good soul. He saved this band basically‚??he saved me‚?¶I was going to quit.
I was tired. Like after we got home from England, I was tired of everything‚?¶I didn‚??t know what the fuck‚?¶I didn‚??t believe it anymore. Cameron did.
Well, you guys came back with a really strong, focused release it seems.
I think so too. I can say that‚?¶I believe it.
Coming up with the title of Agents of the Underground, was that something you thought of before you recorded it, or was that something that evolved throughout the recording process?
It evolved throughout the recording‚?¶definitely. A band like us‚?¶like everybody that was along in the glory days of the early 90‚??s are gone, or they‚??re pathetic now. Here we are, we‚??re just the same band that we were‚?¶still fucking trudging it out man‚?¶I don‚??t know‚?¶I feel like we‚??re one of the last punk rock bands out there. Honestly! We‚??re still fucking in the trenches, fighting the good fight…this is it, this is who we are, this is what we do‚?¶like fuck it, deal with it.
Well, for example, Pennywise‚?¶ I don‚??t think anyone saw that coming, I saw them in April on the Jagermeister tour and then next thing you know I‚??m reading about Jim leaving the band‚?¶
Yeah, it‚??s hard‚?¶especially when you get older and you get a family.
You know, making music is the most precious thing in the fucking world because you have to sacrifice so much shit to do it. There‚??s so much bullshit that you have to deal with that nobody knows about‚?¶so much shit that you have to give up and do. For a person to hear a record‚?¶people don‚??t even fucking realize; when a band makes a record‚??people don‚??t even think for a second, everything that band had to do to get that shit done. You‚??re not making money, you‚??re leaving your family behind‚?¶you‚??ve got to give up everything to make that music.
What do you look to for inspiration for your lyrics?
I don‚??t know man, movies‚?¶I like movies a lot. I don‚??t know what it is, maybe it‚??s the music that we write‚?¶.whatever it is, I just do it. It‚??s what I do and I have to do it (laughs).
How many songs did you guys write for Agents?
It was probably fourteen, and then it just got to a point where we were running out of time and I picked the best eleven out of the group and we focused on those and then the rest sounded too much like the other ones.
So you guys only record those eleven?
We recorded fourteen, but I only did vocals for eleven. There are three others out there that have no vocals.
You think you‚??ll revisit them?
Maybe, yeah, after some time‚?¶they sound really good‚?¶a couple just sounded too similar to some other things that were on the record.
How do you guys go about writing a Strung Out record, has the process changed over the years?
No‚?¶we show up, we figure "Okay we‚??ve got to write a record" and then we drop everything and then the other guys go and practice every day, write and arrange, write and arrange, the music all day long. They don‚??t hear a single vocal melody or a single word until I get into the studio and then I sing and write everything.
This time I was staying up all night writing while they were recording and then I‚??d come in the next morning and sing whatever I came up with.
Do you have any personal favorites, song-wise, on this record?
I love every song on this record. Every song on this record is so personal‚?¶there‚??s not a filler song on this record, that‚??s why we stuck to eleven because anything else would have been filler. Every song has a place, a meaning and a purpose. There was some gnarly shit that was going on in my life during this recording.
All these kids on Punknews and whatever that write their little opinions…you know, (laughing)‚?¶this is our fucking life. We live this fucking life and then we record it.
Over the last fifteen years, has your relationship with Fat changed, or has it stayed the same?
I think they‚??re relationship with us has changed. They‚??ve changed a lot. That‚??s all I can say‚?¶we‚??ve still been trudging it out, doing our thing and they‚??ve changed. For better or worse, that‚??s a matter of opinion‚?¶I‚??m not going to say‚?¶but we‚??re still doing what we do best‚?¶we‚??re still family you know‚?¶
Jake Kiley: But we‚??re still the black sheep.
Have you guys ever thought of making the switch to a major?
What‚??s that going to do for us? We‚??ve seen bands come and go‚?¶and nobody‚??s come and swept us of our feet yet. It just hasn‚??t happened and it probably never will happen‚?¶I don‚??t believe it‚??s in the books.
You know, we make a living off this‚?¶we‚??ve made a living off this for twenty years. I‚??ve been able to pay my rent doing this.
Kiley: We have control of our music.
Cruz: How many bands can say that?
Kiley: Majors don‚??t like you to have control‚?¶they want the control.
Well that‚??s true, I think that‚??s why fans keep coming back to Strung Out, you seem to evolve‚?¶but not to something that‚??s foreign and alien.
Yeah‚?¶and you know, we‚??ve kept the same members this whole time except for Jim.
I think people can identify with that‚?¶it‚??s like they know what they‚??re getting. And it‚??s like I always say, when you look at a painting, you look at more than the technique of the painting, you look at the artist‚??s personality and his life behind that‚?¶and it‚??s the same with a band. You look at the personalities behind the band, and the people that you‚??ve grown to know and like, and that‚??s what adds to the music‚?¶not just, "what if I wrote all the songs and got a different band member every record"‚?¶ people wouldn‚??t connect with that.
There‚??s something to that longevity.
Yeah, it‚??s the same with Fat Wreck Chords,‚?¶dude‚?¶If you can make five dudes that have nothing in common last twenty years and stick it out and do beautiful things, you can make anything work. You can make any marriage work, any friendship, any job, anything…and that‚??s the key to life, making relationships work.
That‚??s inspirational man.
That‚??s all it is‚?¶that‚??s what we‚??re here for. I‚??m not here to make a million dollars, I‚??m here to inspire, because I‚??m inspired.
So this might be a loaded question, but after twenty years of being a band in the underground, in your opinion‚?¶how has the underground changed?
I don‚??t think anybody embraces the fact that they‚??re just making music for making music. I could be wrong, I‚??m not going to speak for anybody, but I think that‚?¶what else is there in life you know? They say that when you make $50,000 and then all of a sudden you make $100,000 your lifestyle changes tremendously, but after $100,000, there‚??s no change, there‚??s just more stress.
What else is there in life‚?¶you find love, you find family, and you find something that you‚??re good at and you just do it. That‚??s all there is, then you‚??re gonna fucking die.
So in that respect, for the people that are genuinely underground, there is no change.
There‚??s nothing, people don‚??t want to get big. I want to make a million dollars, I‚??m not going to fucking lie‚?¶I have bills, I have debt, I have troubles, but I love this right now, and I do this, and this is all there is‚?¶making music.
Can you point to one moment over the last twenty years when you realized that you could do Strung Out full-time and you wouldn‚??t have to go back to your day job? Is there one moment in particular?
No‚?¶I still worry. Everyday‚??s a struggle, everyday‚??s scary. I say all the time that doing what you want in life and not working for anybody is ten times harder then working some shitty job because there‚??s no security in it. People say "oh you‚??re in a band‚?¶you don‚??t have to wake up early every day" and I say "fuck you," I‚??ve got to figure out how to make rent every month, I‚??ve got to make this record, put on this tour‚?¶all while trying to keep my integrity at the same time. You‚??ve got to make a business out of it, but at the same time, keep the sincerity and the meaning in it. It‚??s hard man‚?¶
I hear ya, there‚??s a lot of insecurity in music these days.
There‚??s a lot of insecurity period. You‚??ve just got to make do and make peace with the insecurity‚?¶the fact that there is no security.
Last question, you guys have been all over the world throughout your career, but is there one country that you guys haven‚??t been to yet, that you‚??d love to take your music to?
Yup. I‚??d love to go to Palestine and rock people that have actual, real problems‚?¶like people that actually have to fucking fight for something. Like, I sing about things and we all bitch about things‚?¶but there‚??s people in the world that have real fucking things to sing about and I want to be a part of that.